Review: ‘Promising Young Woman’ (no more mister nice guy)

Practically perfect in every way.

Cassie (Carey Mulligan) looks like a flight attendant who’s had one too many drinks. When a good Samaritan at the club asks how she is, she tells him she can’t find her phone. Out of the goodness of his heart, he offers to get her home, but somewhere along the way, he asks if she’d like to come up to his place. When her silence is assumed as acceptance, it isn’t long afterward Cassie finds herself compromised in a stranger’s bed, her shoes removed, and eager hands touching. Unfortunately for Mr. Nice Guy, Cassie has a secret: she isn’t drunk at all, and comeuppance is about to be served.

Revenge flicks are a thing, especially the girl righting the wrongs inflicted upon her. These films are often too unrealistic and gratuitous in their own way, meaning they are often as bad as what supposedly “inspired” them. The film written and directed by Emerald Fennell (produced through Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment) has a more realistic take, a serious drama with comedic elements that punches up at the bullies instead of blaming the victims. Cassie’s little black book is shown chock-full of names, but what’s the significance of the red versus black tic marks… and has Cassie gone too far already?

More than just a #MeToo melodrama, the story dances around the “becoming a monster to destroy the monsters” bit. Being too gratuitous would have undermined the carefully curated story that unfolds, and Mulligan embodies the self-made femme fatale: pretty-enough, quick-witted, and purposeful. Her man-traps are featured between backstory reveals with other characters rather than flashbacks, building to a choice on whether or not to continue while culminating into a gut-wrenching final act. Both not an easy watch and yet deceptively inviting, Cassie’s story only has a set number of possible endings, and her power is in making peace with all them long ago.

The story weaves a checklist of societal excuses into a plot, addressing them one by one before smashing each with a mallet. “She was asking for it.” “It isn’t my fault she was drunk.” “One mistake shouldn’t end a promising career.” Never mind the parade of possible informants who at any time could have spoken up, from all walks of life and equally complicit in their silence. While this should be enough to make any decent human being angry, the film entertains with dark humor and a fully realized character in Mulligan’s Cassie that viewers will wish the best for, no matter what choice she makes. While the conclusion should be obvious, the setup perfectly lulls audiences into thinking otherwise… and that, too, informs upon a society assuming they know what will or should happen next.

Combining film elements into a unique balance of script, direction, and performance to inform a final cut is difficult under the best of circumstances, but it is especially tough coming at such a serious subject when choosing dark humor as your vehicle. It’s a dark chocolate-coated pill designed to churn one’s stomach after swallowing, the only relief being that intended audiences won’t realize what they’ve learned until it’s far too late.

Promising Young Woman is rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, some sexual material, drug use, and refusing to tattle because you don’t want to make yourself a target, asshole.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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